After watching the film, She’s Lost Control at The Jerusalem Film Festival and speaking to its director and screenwriter, Anja Marquardt, it became clear that her film about sex isn’t at all about sex.
The film follows Ronah, a graduate student working as a sexual surrogate in New York, as she gradually (as the title suggests) loses agency over her life. Though the movie closely tracks Ronah as she meets with her clients in hopes of assuaging their intimacy issues, there is a stark and intentional lack of intimacy between the viewer and the lead character herself.
This coldness – reflected in Ronah’s bare apartment, stiff camera shots often from behind, and cool colors – is palpable and unnerving, largely because it is contrasted with Ronah’s cheerful expressions and the assumingly emotional subject matter of the film.
All of these choices come from both a fascination with the lack of intimacy in today’s world along with personal experience with a different kind of “professional intimacy,” said Marquardt.
Born in Germany, Marquardt grew up in Berlin when it was still a divided city. “Having felt the impact of decades of disruption on my own family, I am far more interested in acceptance and reconciliation, than in keeping up walls,” she wrote on her Kickstarter page for the film.
She’s Lost Control – Marquardt’s first feature film – was by all means a collaborative effort.
“This was one of those first features where you have to pull all of your resources together and get all the help from friends you can get and all the favors around the world from everyone you know to try and make it happen,” said Marquardt.
“The film was born out of the idea to try to make something where I would have creative freedom to some extent and not the pressure of making if for a large budget or under the umbrella of someone telling me how to edit it or whatever,” she said. “It was a project that came together with great freedom and also the collaboration of a lot of really talented people on the team. It’s a nice way to start.”
The film was conceived in November of 2010 when Marquardt began to conceptualize and write, and from there, the screenwriting process started to fall into place.
“The script came together really quickly because it was born out of an idea of some feelings I had from my own life being professionally intimate with complete strangers all the time,” she explained. “We connect to people rather quickly and intimately in the work that we do especially as a filmmaker, but I think it kind of permeates the layers of urban life and you have to deal with it and embrace it and make the best of it.”
Though this intimacy experienced by Marquardt may be prevalent in cities today, she says it still feels unnatural. “Intimacy doesn’t make it easier for you as a working human being and at least for me, it doesn’t make it easier to go back to my own life and connect to other people for real,” she said. “Rather, it’s almost harder to be really emotionally intimate in your own personal life rather than with a stranger or someone you work with.”
Marquardt said she was looking for a way to write about this experience when she came across this particular field of therapy.
“Before I started, I didn’t know anything about surrogate partner therapy at all, yet somehow it seemed a contemporary thing, the inability of people to reach out to one another and connect,” she said. “I think it’s something that seemed like it could become a story that focused on one main character instead of creating too big of a world that I couldn’t pull off.”
To create this world required a lot of help “and a whole ton of research,” Marquardt said, adding that for much of the legwork, she actually turned to Israel.
“One of the advisors of our project is from Israel,” said Marquardt.
“Since Israel is the country of psychoanalysis and therapy, and there’s such knowledge about it here, it didn’t surprise me to found out that there was a school in this field there.”
From there, Marquardt conducted more research and edited the story to become somewhat driven by technology and modern urban lives.
“My goal,” she explained, “was to think of how can I put this to an extreme, somehow, and push it to be a suspenseful story of a woman doing this therapy for a living.”
To Marquardt, Ronah was the manifestation of the most extreme end of professional intimacy. “Of course you could say she’s a sex worker, which she is, but it’s not the same thing as having sex for money because the transaction isn’t the same.”
In making a film about intimacy, Marquardt required a specific kind of actor, and actor chemistry, which made casting difficult.
“We had to recast the film twice with the lead characters,” said Marquardt.
“We initially had a more well-known actress in the lead role, but we realized after we found Brooke [Bloom] that she was best able to carry out our vision.”
Though Marquardt had to make some sacrifices in casting Bloom— including pushing back filming and losing a fair amount of rehearsal time—it was well worth it.
“We filmed in 18 days which didn’t leave much time for rehearsal,” said Marquardt. “Still,” she affirmed, “it made it better, more natural.”
After the challenges in casting, “shooting was the easy part,” said Marquardt. Despite filming in the noisy, humid New York in the middle of June and July last year, filming was “a really enjoyable process.”
Still, the film didn’t directly translate from page to screen; as the actors relationships with one another evolved, as did the script.
“As Bresson said, every film gets made at least three times: script, shoot, edit,” said Marquardt. “In the case of She’s Lost Control, I would say we went in with a fairly solid script, but allowed for things to unfold organically.”
“Some scenes that are in the film are exactly as scripted, some are a condensed version of what was on the page, and some are the result of impulses followed on set,” said Marquardt, who largely credited her creative team cast in their willingness to “try and experiment. “In the editing room, there definitely was the option to make this film more experimental, as well as more narrative. Finding the right balance between those two was challenging and rewarding.”
The creative editing and convincing chemistry (or intentional lack thereof) between Bloom and the other cast members, especially Marc Menchaca, who plays the anesthesiologist client of Ronah, contributed to the “really amazing” reception of the film.
She says that The Sessions, a film about sexual surrogacy that came out 2012, actually helped in introducing the concept of surrogate- partner therapy to the world.
“It let people know that I wasn’t coming to the table with any salacious intent of exposing people,” said Marquardt.
With some basic knowledge of the subject matter in mind, audiences really connected to the film in different ways, said Marquardt.
“It was interesting especially to see how different groups of people reacted to the film. At Berlin [International Film Festival 2014] where the film premiered, it was an older audience, and people had very different feelings about the subject matter than in South Korea at a film festival with a much younger demographic,” she said.
Marquardt explained that the difficulties in making the film only added to the final result, and did not detract from the filming experience.
“Being a filmmaker is tough, period,” she said. “The difficulties that arise have more to do with tenacity, the ability to make choices, following your gut and being able to enjoy the madness somehow.”